Bertille Bak’s first solo exhibition in the UK is a collection of seemingly non-fiction short films, maps, tapestry and installations. From Polish frog racing, to French village doors and rafts in bottles, these curios are props in her filmed narratives about community and identity. This exciting showcase of her work since 2007 is on at Nettie Horn’s newly opened space in London’s W1.
Bak lives and works in Arras and Paris; her first film told the story of the mining community in her familial hometown, which was about to be demolished. While plotting a modest rebellion, tapestries ‘Banner n4’ and ‘Banner n3’ were passed from house to house and sewn.
Rather than tears, Bak’s films features jokes, audio and visual surprises and pinpoint what a community is in an ordinary sense. One newspaper passes from house to house and a yogurt pot and string-type intercom system exists between the homes. Instead of making bold, political statements, builders are caught on camera cutting away the communication lines stretched between the houses.
Although the villagers clown around for Bak’s camera, they remain aware of their powerless situation: an old lady chains and re-chains her front door, knowing that even by having several doors on one hinge, she won’t keep change out. The doors belonging to destroyed homes are brought over to London as the piece ‘Untitled (Doors)’. Doors are often seen in trompe l’oeil style art as symbols of passageway and escape, so it is striking that here, they remain hinged together, like ineffective shields.
After winning the Edward Steichen award and during her six month residency in New York, Bak’s work focuses on the Polish community.
“Bertille spends months and months with a community,” Danielle Horn, Director of Nettie Horn says. “It is an involved practice.” Of the installation made of 22 rafts in bottles, some with matchsticks oars, some with flags as sails, she adds, “they are about New York’s troubled history of immigration. They represent the individuals that succeeded and those who did not.”
As you walk around the exhibition, you get a strong sense of the artist’s personal style. Her films don’t feature actors, which makes them feel purposefully unpolished. Favier calls these stories “games inviting you to work out facts from fiction”. In ‘Urban Chronicle 3’ the narrative is cut up by advertisements such as the Christmas Coca Cola advert with the flying truck.
“The Coca Cola advert is a universal symbol of our contemporary society,” Horn says. “Everyone in the world knows that brand. It is a unifying unity between different cultures.” Not afraid to point to small, domestic curios as ordinary as a fizzy drink, Bak’s style remains true to its 2007 origins. Her map of New York doesn’t include street names, but rather the position of satellite dishes, to provide a language-proof guide to the city. Because, after all, isn’t a satellite dish just a technologically advanced yogurt-pot-and-string?